Sunday, December 24, 2006

Cult Movie Review: "Fight Club"

As stated in my Pop Culture Pusher article, I am a big fan of the movie Fight Club. Based on the novel of the same name written by Chuck Palahniuk and directed by David Fincher (The Game, Panic Room), when it was released in 1999, it got some poor reviews and bombed at the box office. But since then, it has achieved cult status and critical raves. It even has entered the lexicon, with everybody knowing the first rule of Fight Club and how hard Brad Pitt wants to be hit. I recently rewatched the movie for the 10+ time (no joke), so it is fresh in my mind.

A small digression here as I will talk about Chuck Palahniuk and his books. Fight Club the movie and my experiences with it lead me to pick up the book. I thoroughly enjoyed the book, reading it twice in the span of year. I then picked up Palahniuk’s second book, then his third, and so on. Here is the case where a movie based on a book didn’t ruin the book; indeed, it helped open up a whole new author to me. But be warned if you are thinking of picking up Chuck P’s novels: they aren’t for the faint of heart. But they do make for some sharp social satire.

And that’s what makes Fight Club’s story so compelling. Take away the twists and turns and what you have is a plot concerning an anarchist. But why is Tyler Durden an anarchist? It’s not because of the government or the economic divide. It’s us. It’s society that has turned this man. His actions are basically pranks pulled on the collective group to make us aware of the malaise that surrounds us. The movie can’t spell it out any clearer then in the opening few minutes where Edward Norton’s character bemoans the fact that planets will soon be sponsored by corporations. Yet he is trapped by these corporations as he orders furniture from IKEA and sips Starbucks coffee.

But let’s step away from the social commentary and concentrate on the performances. Edward Norton is the main character, the sad sack. His life is perfect until it literally blows up in his face. As he sinks deeper, things become clearer. Norton has to play a range of emotions in the movie, surprisingly, from shell shock to anger to rage to jealousy. But luckily he gets to play off of Brad Pitt, as Tyler Durden. Durden is the popular kid if viewed through Alice’s looking glass. He has confidence, doesn’t have a care in the world, is driven, and just radiates cool. Or as Tyler puts it, in one of the more critical scenes in the movie: he is everything Edward Norton’s character is not. Helena Bonham Carter rounds out the triangle as Marla Singer, the bane of Norton’s life and girlfriend of Tyler. Although first introduced as the least sane of the group, she slowly becomes the foundation of the movie. Ms. Carter brilliantly plays Marla as a cross between a suicidal goth girl to a woman who just wants to be happy.

It says a lot that I became a fan of all three actors after I first saw the movie. Before Fight Club, Edward Norton and Brad Pitt were on my “indifferent-to, don’t-really-care-about” list. I actively saw movies such as The Score and Death to Smoochy based on Norton’s appearance in them. Fight Club was right in the midst of Brad Pitt’s rise to the top, and I happily boarded that train. I had never even heard of Helena Bonham Carter before Fight Club and became a fan of hers.

I also became a fan of David Fincher, the director. He has a unique style to his directing. If you watch Panic Room and Fight Club you can easily see this. He likes “zoom” shots, where he takes you through an inanimate object to illustrate something important. He colors are usually muted, unless there is something jarring he wants to show the audience. This is used to great effect in Fight Club, such as in the scene where Edward Norton is writing around in pain from a chemical burn, trying to calm himself down, trying to picture a green forest. The bright colors come out of nowhere and achieve the effect of making the viewer blink a few times to readjust. Of course, by that time, we are back to the muted colors.

Anything that is used very well in the movie is the breaking down of the fourth wall. The fourth wall refers the imaginary wall the audience peaks through when watching a scene in a room. The audience sees the three other walls as background set pieces, with the fourth wall being the audience’s perspective. When it is said that the fourth wall is being broken, this means the TV show, play, movie, etc. is talking directly to the audience and not acting around it.

Edward Norton’s character serves as the narrator of the movie, but that in itself isn’t directly breaking the wall. However, there are parts in the movie where Mr. Norton appears directly looking into the camera, narrating what is going on in the background. Pitt, as Tyler Durden, gives out his manifesto directly to the audience. At one point, while Durden is working as a movie projectionist, he talks about how certain marks denote when a reel has to be changed. Those marks then appear in the movie and Tyler points them out. The events and others blend the reality of the movie from realism to absurdist and satire. That is good, because the second half of the movie deals with Durden and his terrorist-like ways. If the movie was serious all the time, this plot development would be hard to swallow, but you never get the feeling that Tyler is an evil man, just hugely insane.

Everyone probably knows the twist at the end by now, but just in case, I won’t spoil it here. Suffice to say, if you watch it a second time after the reveal, and I mean really watch it, you get a lot of clues. From pieces of dialogue to obvious visual clues to subliminal visual clues, it’s all there. Like The Sixth Sense, Fight Club is better the second time around.

As you can probably tell, I can go on and on about this movie. I haven’t even touched upon the supporting acting from Meat Loaf (yes, Meat Loaf!) and Jared Leto. I could have talked about Tyler’s outlandish outfits in the movie that has inspired a whole line of clothing. But I won’t. I will leave on this paraphrased quote from the movie: how much do you know about yourself if you’ve never seen Fight Club?

5 Stitches out 5


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